Britain’s stunning vote to leave the European Union, buoyed by a frenzy of nationalism and populist anger, was a crushing rejection of the political elite. Republican Donald Trump hopes it is also a preview of November’s US presidential election.
The referendum result reverberated immediately in the US presidential campaign. Trump’s rise to become the presumptive Republican nominee was sustained by a similar brew of anti-establishment and anti-globalization sentiment.
A Brexit supporter, Trump was happy to note the parallels to his own campaign when he reopened his golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, on Friday. Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton bemoaned the result.
Both sides took stock of a decision that seemed to indicate the insurgent campaign launched by the wealthy real estate developer had tapped into a global wave that might be hard to tamp back into the bottle.
“This is a protest vote against globalization and there is one presidential candidate who won the nomination who has put globalization in his crosshairs - and that’s Donald Trump,” Republican strategist John Feehery said.
Trump, who has spent much of his campaign warning of the dangers posed by immigrants who illegally enter from Mexico and proposing a ban on U.S. entry for Muslims, has matched the global mood with his rhetoric.
“There are swaths of the population around the world who are struggling economically in the current economy, and groping for targets of blame,” said Katherine Cramer, a political science professor and director of the Morgridge Center for Public Service at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Trump and the Brexit vote offer up tangible targets, and it is not surprising that people grab onto them. The vote yesterday is a reminder that Trump could very well win the presidential election,” she said.
Wake up call
The referendum, which most British opinion polls had predicted was headed to defeat, was a wake-up call for Democrats who have been heartened by Clinton’s lead over Trump in opinion polls of late.
“I woke up this morning a little dismayed,” said Democratic strategist Dane Strother. “The question is whether Trump is similarly underperforming in the polls here. If that underpolled anger was present in Britain, as a Democrat you have to hope it isn’t mirrored here.”
Global stock markets wobbled immediately after the vote, which experts warned could trigger a global recession and weaken the US economy.
“The more the world seems to be coming apart, the more challenging it is for the candidate of the status quo, and that’s Hillary Clinton,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who worked on US Senator Marco Rubio’s failed White House campaign.
Differences between the electorates in the United Kingdom and the United States are one reason the Brexit sentiment may not translate fully into success for Trump.
About 30 million votes were cast in the last British general election in 2015, with about 10 percent of those cast by minority voters. Polling in the UK ahead of the Brexit vote suggested broad support for staying in the EU among those voters.
By contrast, according to the Pew Research Center, nonwhite voters constituted 26 percent of all voters in the 2012 US general election — and by a huge margin they backed Democratic President Barack Obama. Pew projects that by November, nearly one in three voters will be a minority, and opinion polls show Trump struggling with those blocs.
Clinton can take advantage of the mood without indulging in some of the over-the-top rhetoric that has set back Trump’s campaign, Republican strategist Rich Galen said.
“She can reflect some of the same sentiment that Trump and the Brexit forces tapped into but use it to her advantage. She can say,‘We need to have a smart immigration policy but we don’t have to be ugly or divisive.’ She is not going to, and doesn’t want to, out-Trump Trump, but the idea is to say, ‘I understand these concerns,’“ he said.
Just being more mature, experienced and sympathetic than Trump may not be enough.
“The argument is you need a responsible grownup, but a large part of the world doesn’t want a responsible grownup,” said Tom Rath, a New Hampshire-based Republican strategist. “I don’t think it’s enough to say I know all the stuff he doesn’t or he’s rash, because right now people aren’t filtering that through.”